BEIRUT: As he rushed to finish preparing a flower arrangement for a client, Abu Hisham’s eyes were fixed on the television suspended in the corner of his shop where the Special Tribunal for Lebanon trial was unfolding live.
Abu Hisham, a resident of Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, said the international-backed court was the only means to reveal the truth into former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination.
“Do we have another solution other than the international tribunal? God willing, the day will come when justice will prevail,” Abu Hisham said.
“The Lebanese judiciary is unable to investigate this case. You know better than me that it is dominated by a certain group,” said Abu Hisham, the florist. He declined to elaborate.
After nearly nine years of investigation, many in Lebanon had given up hope of the tribunal ever coming to pass. Others dismissed it as a political attack on Hezbollah or simply a waste of money. But the courtroom drama being broadcast all day on most of the major channels has captivated the attention of many, and could even change the minds of some.
Ramez Maluf, a professor of mass communication at Balamand University, said live coverage of the proceedings gives the Lebanese public important insight into the workings of the court.
“In the past, people have questioned the legitimacy of the tribunal ... now that people are seeing the sober court proceedings, that will have an impact,” he told The Daily Star. “People arguing that the court is just a politicized tool are going to have to make a much stronger argument now.”
The case also offers audiences dramatic intrigue usually reserved for scripted shows, Maluf said, citing the “almost cinematic approach” of the cloak-and-dagger revelations broadcast to the Lebanese public.
“If you’re a fan of CSI or something you’re going to see that there’s a lot that’s happening here.”
Mohammad al-Mays, who works in a sweets shop in the same neighborhood as Abu Hisham, said he was impressed with the court’s professionalism. “I am watching the trials just like many other people here and I believe the judges are respectful and are presenting a good analysis of the events.”
“Everybody is interested in finding out who killed Hariri,” said a man named Alaa, who watched the proceedings at the grocery store where he works not far from Mays’ sweet shop. “I believe that the telecoms evidence is strong evidence,” he said.
Others, however, remain unconvinced. Even in Al-Tariq al-Jadideh, where the the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is popular and the party he founded still dominates, many said they were not following the trial.
In Zoqaq al-Blat, few were willing to speak on the record about the trial, although several said they were following the proceedings.
“We are watching it, but we can’t talk about it,” said one man sitting in a coffee shop who would only give his first name, Abdullah. “We know it’s a big lie.”
Maluf said that although the coverage lends a decided air of transparency to the proceedings, most people have already decided whether the four accused Hezbollah supporters are guilty or innocent.
“You have people who have very strong views about the issue. Those people are not going to be affected at all. Given the way that those things are that’s probably a majority for the people,” Maluf said.
For Raed Mohsen, Dean of Students at the Lebanese American University and an expert in interpersonal communications, televised coverage of the trial has helped materialize the criminal narrative for many.
“When you have [evidence] visualized in a map, when they talk about the red network and the green network ... it becomes closer to home,” he said. “It’s more hands on.”
Tamer Qais, a shop owner in Karakol al-Druze, echoed Mohsen’s sentiment. “We can’t go there, but if we see it on TV it’s like we are actually there and no one can misinform us.
“If we see it on TV, then it’s going to be the truth. I don’t need a reporter to tell me what’s gone on, I can see it for myself,” he said.
Still, Mohsen stressed that the novelty of the trial coverage might soon wear thin.
“I think that people in general, pro-March 8 or 14 will be bored of the televised part. They want results,” he told The Daily Star.
The trial could drag on for years.
“Those waiting for a conviction followed by arrests are going to be disappointed since no arrests will take place,” Mohsen said.
Salim Qais, a grocer in Karakol al-Druze was similarly pessimistic.
“During these 60 years there were so many assassinations and no one went on trial and they didn’t catch the criminals nor the governments behind this. Nothing will change,” he said. “People will get bored and they will forget everything.” – Additional reporting by Samya Kullab